LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - How bad is the crack cocaine problem in Louisville?
I shot video recently of what appears to be people buying and counting white rocks at an apartment building on 29th Street. This building is 50 yards from the front door of Brandeis Elementary School.
Buyers who get stuck without a way to smoke crack cocaine there can find help, conveniently, at nearby stores.
"Hey can I get a kit?" I asked the clerk at a convenience store at Dixie Food Market on Dixie Highway.
"A kit?" he asked.
"Yeah," I said. I was dressed undercover so I wouldn't be recognized, wearing a hidden camera, asking the clerk for what's called a "kit."
It's a small glass pipe, a copper Chore Boy scrubber that serves as a filter, and sometimes a lighter included too, all packed in a small brown paper bag.
Basically, it's a crack cocaine smoking kit.
"$6.35," he charged me as he handed over the bagged kit. I walked out and noticed an addiction recovery center right across the street.
I went out undercover with a coworker to convenience stores in a zone with high illegal drug arrest numbers, spanning from Dixie Highway to 28th Street.
At each store, we asked a simple question: "Can I get a kit?"
We never requested the individual items, but they were assembled and bagged up right there. Daily Mart at Dixie and Wilson charged $5.55.
Same story at the liquor store at 26th and Chestnut streets, and Dino's Food Mart at 26th Street and Broadway.
"You don't need no kit girl," the clerk at Shorty's at Dixie Highway and Date Street said, trying to talk my coworker out of it, while packing and selling her a kit for the second day in a row.
A couple stores we visited, like Tony's Convenient Mart at 26th Street and Broadway, told us they do not sell kits.
But nine times we walked out of stores with crack cocaine smoking kits costing anywhere from $4 to $7.
"To tell you the truth, I was quite shocked, and somewhat amazed," WAVE 3 News safety and security expert D'Shawn Johnson said when we showed him the results of our investigation. Johnson was a Louisville narcotics officer for 12 years.
"Separately, each one of these items mean nothing," Johnson said as he laid out the glass pipe, copper scrubber and lighter from one bag. "But when you combine them, they become what's called drug paraphernalia."
Kentucky state law says "kits designed for use in, converting, processing or preparing controlled substances" constitute a "Class A misdemeanor."
"What you're doing is you're perpetuating drugs in this community and you're profiting from it," Johnson said. "So you're no better than the local drug dealer himself."
When we went back to the workers who sold us kits, we encountered denial and then ignorance of their purpose every time.
"We bought them directly from you ma'am. Do you know what you're selling here?" I asked the clerk at Shorty's on Dixie.
"I don't sell that so why you coming at me about it?" she said.
"We've got you on video selling these," I said.
"You don't have me on video selling anything," she said.
"Yeah we really do," I said.
"Please leave," she said.
"OK we will," I said as we walked out.
"When someone says I need a kit, and you pack this bag, how do you know what to put in the bag?" I asked the clerk at Dixie Food Market.
"This is how everybody does, it's not just me," he said.
"No, it's several stores, I know," I said.
"I got no idea what is the purpose of it or what they do," he said.
"I don't smoke," the clerk at Daily Mart said. "I don't have any idea."
"How do you know what all to put in here when someone says 'I need a kit,' like we did?" I asked the manager at the liquor store at 26th and Chestnut streets.
"I don't know," he said.
"This is used for crack cocaine, to smoke crack cocaine," I told the clerk at Dino's.
"I figured it would be something like that but I don't know anything about it," he said.
"Do you know what people are using these things for?" I asked the clerk who sold me a kit at Valero at Cane Run Road and Algonquin Parkway. She shook her head no, refusing to answer.
"So you're not going to answer any questions?" I asked. She kept shaking her head no.
"This is something that should shock the community," Johnson said. "This is something from a community standpoint where community leaders should get involved."
I was only able to reach one owner, who denied selling kits at his store, but didn't call me back when I offered to show him the video.
The Jefferson County Attorney's office can't remember ever prosecuting any cases like this.
Other cities discovering these kits for sale, like Detroit, Gainesville and Tucson responded by shutting down stores and making felony arrests.